LARAMIE, Wyoming — Suddenly, Wyoming's red-zone incompetency is gone.
After scoring on just 14 of 26 trips inside opponents' 20-yard line over a six-game span from Sept. 12 to Oct. 17, the Cowboys have been perfect in the red zone.
In their past two games, they've found the end zone on all five red-zone scoring opportunities — two at Boise State and three at Utah State.
The difference? Perhaps it's Jake Maulhardt.
The 6-foot-5 junior wide receiver has accounted for three of those five touchdowns.
"Throughout the season, we've had struggles in the red zone, and so I think we've tried to find me a little bit more since I am a bigger target," he said. "I'm able to use my size in the end zone."
During the first five weeks of the year, he scored just once, in Week 2 at Washington State.
In the past four weeks, Maulhardt has hauled in six touchdowns — all but one from the red zone — with at least one in each game.
There's no question the Cowboys have made a concerted effort to target Maulhardt more often as the field shortens deep in opponent territory.
"It's big time," UW interim wide receivers coach Gordie Haug said. "I think it's a huge advantage for him, and our offense, to be able to have a specific route ... he's really able to use ... his body to be able to change his route and make sure that it's successful."
With standout junior wide receiver Tanner Gentry sidelined by a separated shoulder the past two weeks, and again this week, Maulhardt has been forced to shoulder a heavier load.
He led the Pokes in receptions and receiving yards at both Boise State and Utah State, combining for 10 catches for 106 yards in those games, during which UW passed minimally.
"He just continues to answer the bell when given opportunities," UW offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said. "That's been consistent throughout the season. We didn't maybe get the ball directed to him nearly as much as we should've or could've the past couple weeks in lieu of Tanner. ... We're getting enough one-on-one situations. We've got to keep going after him."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Smith, who made his first career start last week, said Maulhardt has helped ease his transition into a starting role.
Smith found Maulhardt on the opening drive against Utah State for a key third-down conversion, then capped the series with a touchdown pass to him as well.
In the fourth quarter, Maulhardt also snatched a jump ball from Smith for an 8-yard score.
"His body and his body style makes it easier on a quarterback to give him a chance to make a play," Smith said. "As long as you can throw it in the area, he has a really good opportunity to go make a play. He showed that on Friday night."
Maulhardt's seven touchdowns this season are the most by any receiver during the Craig Bohl coaching era. He's on pace to finish with the most by any Cowboy in a single season since Jovon Bouknight tallied 12 touchdown receptions in 2005.
After registering 30 receptions for 350 yards and two touchdowns in 2013 and 2014 combined, Maulhardt has broken out for 472 yards on 46 catches as a junior.
Perhaps more importantly, though, he's provided a cure to the Cowboys' red-zone calamity.
"That's why I came here: Because I wanted to be the guy that they get the ball to in the red zone," Maulhardt said. "It's definitely nice to see the hard work pay off. I wish it related a little bit more to wins, but it's fun."
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com